The stage is set for an exhilarating finale to the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series on Sunday as the top two teams in the standings, Fiji and USA, successfully secured their places in the Cup quarter-finals at the final round in Paris.
Last weekend in London, Fiji overtook the USA in the world series standings but the margin between the duo sits at just two points. Alongside booking their own Cup quarter-final place, South Africa guaranteed their presence at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games early on the first day of action at a sun-drenched Stade Jean-Bouin.
The Cup quarter-finals at the #ParisSevens @fijirugby v @FFRugby @USARugby v @OfficialKRU @AllBlacks7s v @unionargentina @Blitzboks v @manusamoa— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) 1 June 2019
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The final set of Cup quarter-finals this season will see hosts France take on Fiji while the USA will face Kenya. The other two knockout clashes will be between New Zealand and Argentina, while South Africa will take on Samoa. All four matches will take place from 11:28 local time and will be proceeded by the Challenge Trophy quarter-finals.
In the glorious Parisian sunshine, Fiji mesmerised the crowd as they continued where they left off in London. First up, against a less experienced English side, they hit the 40-point mark with nearly four minutes left on the clock. James Rodwell's first ever try in Paris, on the occasion of his last professional tournament, provided a positive moment for England before Fiji finished the encounter with eight tries scored by eight different try-scorers.
After that 52-14 victory, a 40-26 result against Argentina followed - although it wasn’t quite as comfortable as the scoreline suggests. Just seven points separated the sides going into the final seconds and Los Pumas Sevens were pressing hard. However, a final spill of the ball resulted in Apenisa Cakaubalavu racing away to secure victory for Fiji.
Gareth Baber's outfit then finished the day on a high note. They over-powered Ireland by 40-5 with Aminiasi Tuimaba capping his day's work with a hat-trick and Alasio Naduva scoring a brace. Argentina also ended their day on the right note too due to their five-try 31-19 stormer against England and that secured their own place in the Cup quarter-finals.
Once again, the Blitzboks showed outstanding form on the opening-day to top Pool B. The side’s trio of victories arrived as they notched up a total of 70 points and duly became the only team to top their pool after day one at every event this series.
Behind them an intriguing contest unfolded as a result of Australia’s 19-19 draw against Kenya and their loss to Wales by 24-7. That left Australia needing to beat the Blitzboks to progress into the last-eight, something that they couldn’t do despite pushing them hard in their 19-17 contest.
Kenya and Wales came into the weekend with the aim of securing their core team status for next season and that produced electric rugby from them both with Joe Goodchild and Johnstone Olindi particularly shining.
The clash between the two, who went into the weekend 13th and 14th in the standings, was an intense one. Wales’ electric start gave them a 14-0 advantage before they were pulled back to 14 points apiece with five minutes to play. Nelson Oyoo’s double sent Kenya's fans wild but Wales responded. At 26-21 and with 50 seconds to play, Wales kicked-off but Olindi soared into high into the air to secure the ball. He also helped to secure victory, a place in the Cup quarter-finals and the side's core status for 2020.
The USA showed their outstanding combination of power and pace to charge out of Pool C without a second glance and were able to overcome a significant injury to a key man.
The side's opening match was against Spain, a team that they held a ten-game winning streak over, and Friday's men dominated to effortlessly triumph 31-7. Carlin Isles' brace helped him match the 49 tries that he accumulated on the world series last year and he reached the half-century point against Samoa.
The USA Eagles Sevens had to take time to re-group in that game though, after a tournament-ending leg injury to Folau Niua. Following such a difficult moment, the leadership of Madison Hughes shone through as he scored a calming try and they then surged out to a 33-14 victory. The outfit’s clean-sweep arrived through overcoming a resilient charge from Canada but they had enough nous to deliver the 26-12 result.
The duel for the second Cup quarter-final qualification spot saw Samoa and Spain approach their final match of the day with a win apiece. Tomasi Alosio was instrumental in a positive first seven minutes for Samoa as they outscored their opponents by three tries to one. After the break, the side who won the Challenge Trophy in London last weekend pressed on for a 19-point, 31-12 victory.
Pool D was the pool that contained more drama than there was sunshine at the Stade Jean-Bouin and it started by New Zealand facing a scare against Scotland.
Scotland hadn’t beaten their opponents in 46 attempts but held a 12-7 advantage at the start of the second half. The All Blacks Sevens held their nerve and after Jona Nareki cut through, an Andrew Knewstubb conversion broke Scottish hearts.
France then suffered heartbreak of their own as Japan stunned them. Chihito Matsui, Katsuyuki Sakai and Naoki Motomura all crossed to help them into a 17-7 advantage. And, although Jean Pascal Barraque’s final try made for a tense finish, Kensuke Iwabuchi's men held on for a head-turning 17-14 victory.
Japan put on a bold showing against New Zealand too, leading 14-12 at half-time before the All Blacks Sevens edged it in the second half and a single-point 22-21 loss to Scotland was a big blow in their bid to retain core status next season.
After the earlier matches, including France’s 28-12 triumph over Scotland, Les Bleus met New Zealand to end the day’s proceedings and despite having the crowd behind them, they couldn’t overpower their opponents and had to settle for second place in the pool.
The final day of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2019 kicks-off at 10:00 local time with Ireland taking on Scotland in the first of Challenge Trophy quarter-finals. Follow the action on https://www.world.rugby/sevens-series/ and @WorldRugby7s .